What’s in a lab?…. An Insider’s Perspective Part 1

For those of us who troweled our way into being an experienced archaeologists or those just curious about what goes on in “the lab” this post will highlight some of the varieties of interesting things you will find at the other end of excavation unit! Some archaeologists proclaim that the laboratory phase is an extension of the field and or that the field is just one big lab. Other’s suggests that the laboratory is an entirely different site which requires a separate set of priorities. Either way, the relationship between “the field” and “the lab” is as complex to the archaeologists as a race car driver is to the inner workings of a car. Both can work well independently but certainly one can’t go far without the other!

So, what’s it like in on the inside of the CAP laboratory? Through a short series of post I will discuss the room, the equipment, and some neat artifacts to explore work in the CAP lab. I will highlight what you could expect to find in a lab and how its facilitates work for CAP as well as other department archaeologists. To begin, the Colloquium for Archaeological Research has a couple of laboratories for the wide range of artifacts from decades of student and faculty research. These collections range from ancient Purepacha pottery fragments to Great Lakes hunter gather materials. They include some from items colonial America and once housed items as far away as early hominid materials Lake Turkana. The variety of archaeologists include: undergraduates, graduates, Ph.D. candidates and occasionally even a faculty member or two… The basement of McDonnel hall is constantly blooming with archaeologists of all levels cleaning, tagging, and interpreting our finds.

Campus Archaeology Lab, photo by B Zaid

The CAP lab is a moderate size room with your typical “science tables.” You remember the ones from middle school science class with the sinks in the middle? Yes, those are an integral part of our lab. The typical slate surface and several compartments can help us maintain a clean an organized workspace. Large cabinets, full of shelves, surround the walls so that we can house several different collections in an organized fashion. The lab is mostly in the state of an archaeologists “organized clutter,” the kind where we know exactly where everything is to the letter, but an outsider dare not get in our way!

Ultimately, the lab is a spacious set of tables, sinks, chairs, and cabinets to hold and organize all of our field finds. We are able to process (clean, label, and store) artifacts until they are ready for interpretation. Ha! Not so scary after all to my friends who stay in the field!

The CAP lab is well lit despite the lack of windows and the marginal basement creepiness. This, or any other lab, is definitely a place where you you should plan to expand you archaeological experiences. Lab folks are friendly and we wont make you clean a thing (maybe). So if the opportunity come your way step into the world of artifacts beyond the field!

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